Greg Abbott

Texas Educators, Lawmakers Urge Gov. Abbott to Allow School Districts to Set Mask Policies

Governor apparently unwilling to budge on masking, says they are a personal responsibility and pushes COVID-19 vaccines even though children under 12 cannot yet be vaccinated

What to Know

  • Educators, lawmakers call on the governor to end executive order blocking mask mandates in Texas schools as children under 12 are not yet able to be protected against COVID-19 through vaccines.
  • The governor has said there will be no more mask mandates and says it's time for personal responsibility when it comes to masking.
  • CDC said "masks work best when everyone wears them;" they are not worn simply to protect the wearer they are worn to protect the community.

Due to a surge in new cases of COVID-19, Texas educators and state lawmakers are calling on Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to rescind his executive order prohibiting school districts from deciding their own policies on face masks.

Abbott said earlier this month there will be no more mask mandates enforced by the state, other than his own mandate that forbids mask mandates, and that it's time for people to take personal responsibility. Abbott has advocated for the use of vaccines in fighting the coronavirus, but that plan of attack excludes tens of thousands of schoolchildren who are not yet old enough to be protected from the virus by a vaccine.

With scores of unvaccinated children heading back into classrooms next month, many are worried unmasked children could be vectors of the highly transmissible delta variant passing the virus between themselves, teachers, and families at home.

Because of the surge in cases and the significance of the delta variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Tuesday kids wear masks in schools this fall and that fully vaccinated people again begin wearing masks indoors in places with high COVID-19 transmission rates -- which includes most of Texas.

Map from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing the spread of COVID-19.

"This pandemic continues to pose a serious threat to the health of all Americans," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters on a call Tuesday. "Today, we have new science related to the delta variant that requires us to update the guidance regarding what you can do when you are fully vaccinated."

Last week the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended universal masking for everyone older than age 2, regardless of vaccination status, when schools reopen in the fall because so much of the student population isn't yet eligible for vaccination.

The Texas State Teachers Association on Tuesday urged the governor to give school districts the power to decide if requiring masks in their facilities is the best course of action for protecting the health of everyone in schools.

"If Gov. Abbott really cares about the health and safety of Texas students, educators, and their communities, he will give local school officials and health experts the option of requiring masks in their schools," the TSTA said in a statement Tuesday.

It's not clear if Abbott has responded to the TSTA. Meanwhile, the call for the governor to loosen the restrictions on masking is growing beyond educators.

Julian Castro, the Democratic former mayor of San Antonio and HUD secretary who is often a critic of the Republican governor, said on Twitter, "it's time to put your politics aside and let schools protect their students and teachers by requiring mask-wearing if communities choose to."

In a different tweet, Castro said Abbott needs to decide if he'll, "follow CDC guidance and protect the health of Texas students, educators, and families or follow the misinformed, anti-health wing of his party."

State Rep. Vikki Goodwin (D-District 47), sent a letter to both Abbott and Mike Morath, the commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, on July 23 asking the governor to restore fully-funded virtual instruction as well as providing autonomy for districts to decide if masks are necessary for their schools.

Despite the letter being signed by 31 of Goodwin's Democratic colleagues in the Texas House, she told NBC 5 on Wednesday afternoon that her office has received no response from either the governor or the TEA commissioner.

Separately NBC 5 reached out to Abbott's office on Tuesday to see if the governor was considering changing his stance on blocking mask mandates given the new guidance from the CDC and others. Abbott's press secretary sent NBC 5 the following statement:

“Gov. Abbott has been clear that the time for government mandating of masks is over -- now is the time for personal responsibility. Every Texan has the right to choose whether they will wear a mask, or have their children wear masks. Vaccines are the most effective defense against contracting COVID and becoming seriously ill, and we continue to urge all eligible Texans to get the vaccine. The COVID vaccine will always remain voluntary and never forced in Texas."

On Wednesday afternoon, WOAI-TV reported San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff sent Abbott a letter requesting they be given the ability to enforce masks in schools and government buildings to fight off a surge of new COVID-19 cases. As of this writing, it's not clear if the governor has responded.

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